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Fly Fishing the Quality Stillwaters of British Columbia

article and photos by Gordon Honey

The Area

The quality stillwaters region of British Columbia defined geographically as, south of Prince George in the north, east of Coastal Mountain range to the west, and east to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The Southern area extends to the U.S./Canadian border. This is the Central Interior, a diverse land of alpine meadows, rolling ranch land and semi-arid desert valleys.

The number and diversity of the lakes within this region is astounding, for example in the Kamloops region alone, there are two hundred lakes within a 60 mile radius of the city. The central interior of British Columbia is truly the stillwater capital of the world, a fly fisher's paradise!

The Quarry

The premier sport fish of the region is the Kamloops trout salmo Kamloops, named by Dr. D. S. Jordan of Stanford University. The Kamloops trout is a sub species of the Rainbow trout salmo gairdneri now referred to by biologist as salmo gairdneri Kamloops. It is a common belief that the Kamloops trout evolved from the Thompson River steelhead, resulting in their bright silver coloring and their world renown fighting qualities!

Kamloops trout are now available to anglers the world over, thanks to stocking exchange programs, can be found as far away as New Zealand; and are currently stocked in lakes in Oregon and California. Should you wish more detailed information I refer you to Roderick Haig-Brown's "The Western Angler" although first published in 1939, it is still the quintessential, biologically descriptive work.

Kamloops trout range in size from one half pound to as much as twenty pounds (Interior anglers generically size fish by pounds rather than inches). These size ranges very from lake to lake based on the following factors: lake depth, water chemistry and average temperature, shoal structure, aquatic vegetation, and impacting on all of these factors, elevation. Larger fish are more common in lakes at elevations of 1000 ft, to a maximum of 5000 ft. Mountain lakes beyond the 5000 ft. level do not support significant numbers of large fish, due to water chemistry and a limited growth period created by winter ice, and the shorter spring and summer seasons. These lakes are populated by an abundance of smaller fish, and provide a wonderful dry fly experience.

Large fish lakes are typically shallow, averaging approximately fifteen feet to a maximum of twenty to twenty-five feet, full of nutrients and aquatic vegetation, these lakes are, almost one vast shoal!

Additional species that are of interest to the stillwater fly fisher in B.C.'s Central Interior, would be Kokanee Onerka kennerlyi, a fresh water Sockeye Salmon that has residualized and remains in fresh water. Kokanee have become a respected sport fish and are generally found in our larger bodies of water. A large kokanee would be three pounds, while the average would be one pound (patterns, tactics, and key time period parallel those of the Kamloops trout).

The Season

Historical averages indicate May 1 as the typical ice off beginning of the season, but dependent on the severity of the winter and the elevation, many valley lakes are free of ice as early as late March and early April. A word of caution however; check the FreshWater Angling Regulation's carefully before venturing out; as many lakes are closed and do not open for angling until May 1. It is usually only the very keen and the very hardy who venture out in March and early April. Although many days can be bright and warm, dress in layers and be prepared of sudden squalls bringing chilly winds. Wind, our friend when it assist in the vital oxygenation of the lakes, or when it provides us the gentle cover of fly fisherman's riffle when casting in shallower water, but oh how we curse it, when the anchors no longer hold, and we are blown off the lake!

The season moves into full swing as May begins, the only negative you may experience at this time might be, arriving at the chosen water, finding it slightly off clarity or murky, the lake has turned over or mixed as all lakes must do in the spring and fall to remain properly oxygenated. When a lake has turned over the poor water quality impacts on the angling as well, this condition typically last for two weeks. As the days warm and become longer the insecta hatches increase as the water warms, stillwater fly fishing has begun in earnest.

In June, and July approaches the warm weather of the Central Interior begins in earnest, valley temperatures in the Kamloops area, can reach upward of 100°F. The fly fisher must now move to higher elevations, as the trout in valley lakes seek the cooler waters of the thermocline, feeding in the shallower waters of the shoals, only as the evening approach. These conditions remain until the latter part of August when evening air temperatures begin to cool, as do the water temperatures.

September brings the first frosts that touch the leaves of not only the deciduous forest trees, but the exposed tips of the lakes aquatic vegetation. As the frosts increase through September and October, the larger fish return to the shoals and shallower water, where they can, at times, forage voraciously, sensing the return of winter and it's cover of ice and snow.

Tackle, Key Time Periods and Food Sources

Fly fishing stillwaters is perhaps a new experience for you and will require some adjustments not only in your traditional techniques, but in the gear you use. Of the lakes in the Central Interior of B.C. 99.9% are not conductive to wading, therefore fly fishing requires the use of either a float tube or a boat. Many of the better lakes are quite large, making the use of a float tube limited or dangerous, tubes are ideal for the numerous small lakes. The vast majority of area angling is from fish camps or resorts. Angling from a boat could very well be foreign to you, here are some thoughts:

  • Your boat should carry at least one anchor, preferably two -- you have much better control of your fly line, and therefore your ability to impart the correct action, of your chosen fly pattern.
  • Use a gasoline motor only on large lakes, using the oars to row quietly as you approach the shoal or drop-off you are going to fish.
  • Loose carpeting covering the interior bottom of the boat will protect your valuable fly line, keeping it clean from sand and grit, and will also help to muffle boat noise's especially in an aluminum hull.
  • Keep the area at your feet uncluttered, it is very frustrating when the fly line tangles in your fly bag or whatever else it can find. You would not be a happy angler, when you finally hook Walter and as he rips coiled line from the bottom, in the first powerful run, and the last coil of line wraps itself around the clutter; --ping, Walter, with your tippet in tow, swims peacefully away!!
  • Wear soft soled shoes so, that if you do step on your fly line, it will happen, no damage will occur. Soft soles also help in muffling sounds as you move about.
Boat and Float Tube etiquette--
  • As you approach the key area and find that others have preceded you, row or paddle slowly and quietly, maintain a distance of at least 150 to 200 ft., from those already anchored. This should be especially noted when in a tube, as your depth perception is distorted by your proximity to the surface. As you move into position, never, ever come between another angler and the shoreline. Release your anchors quietly, an anchor thrown or splashed loudly will scatter fish and draw the ire of those around you.

Appropriate rod and line sizes, rod lengths and line types may vary, dependent upon, techniques, weather conditions and water depth. It is not uncommon for an experienced, stillwater angler to carry four rods, completely setup for a day on the water. A much simpler method is to have two rods and reels set up, carrying various line types on spare spools.

  • Reels, need only a simple drag system, an exposed rim and the capacity to carry at least 100 yds. of backing.
  • Line types could be priorized as follows: intermediate; sinktip; sink #1; #2; #3 and a #4 for August.

Selected rod and line weights, become personal preferences and may vary from 5 to 8 weights. If only one all round weight was to be decided upon, a 6 weight in two lengths, an 8 1/2 and a 9 1/2 ft. would be perfect. They can handle fish to 15 lbs. With care, and can drive long casts into the wind if necessary.

Long cast, 60 to 80 ft., while not always essential allow for more fishing time, as each retrieve is made. If you feel intimidated by this - don't be, practice before going on the water. A great deal of time can be spent sitting down when fly fishing from a boat, both for comfort, and at times to keep a low profile, it would therefore, be wise to practice casting from a sitting position as well.

Key Time Periods & Relative Food Sources

Immediately following ice off, prior to spring turn over, trout key on staple and constant food sources -- leeches, fresh water shrimp (scuds) and Chironomid (Midges) larvae, commonly called bloodworms.

May and early June is the primary Chironomid period as trout gorge themselves on the pupae as they rise slowly to surface, in a vertical migration. This is an exciting time for the knowledgeable angler, fishing with floating lines and, dependent on the water depth, leaders of between 15 and 25 ft. in length are common. This type of angling requires long cast, and infinite patience as the retrieve must be slow, slow and slower still as the Chironomids with not ability to swim, simply rise to surface as they writhe and twist. Your floating line becomes your strike indicator, so constant, hawk like attention, must be paid as even the smallest movement or twitch can be a take.

June and early July is a busy time for both Mother Nature and the fly fisher as various major hatches occur, Sedges (Caddis), Mayflies (callibaetis), Damsel flies and Dragon Flies both the Darner (free swimmer) and the Gomphus (Bottom walker) create the trout's menu! Being a keen observer is the key to success in any situation.

Late July and most of August become the most difficult, technical fly fishing of the entire season. Summer temperature rise, and trout seek the cooler waters of the thermocline, fly fishers must adapt in different ways; either maintaining the use of floating lines and dry flies, while pursuing the smaller trout of the higher elevations, or patiently, probing the deeps with various sinking lines; for larger fish, imitating dragon flies, shrimp (scuds) and leech patterns. Changing to floating lines as the evening cools and the trout move to the sallows to forage on the shoals. It is not unusual, when under the cover of dusk then darkness, nocturnal Sedge's (Caddis) ; leviathan's named locally as travellers, perform their wild skating dance upon the serene moonlight waters; stimulating a feeding frenzy, accompanied by slashing rises; that live forever in the memory of angler fortunate enough to experience, such an evening!

September and October are heralded by, flights of migrating water fowl, the crisp tonic of fall air, cool mornings, warm afternoons and active trout! This is the time of large fish as they prepare for the long winter months ahead. Frost continue to thin the standup weeds of the shoals allowing room for the wide shouldered; nickel plated, slabs of fall to move freely on the shoals.

Life for the fly fisher becomes energized, as the trout's feeding preferences become simpler as they return to the staples once more. Bloodworms, Leeches, Dragons, Shrimps, Water Boatmen and some Chironomid hatches combine to create a tremendous fishery.

As November approaches, and temperatures continue to fall, the increase of morning shore ice heralds the approach of winter. Life below the surface slows, light begins to fade, as curtain of ice is drawn relentlessly over the lake surface; our season on stillwater has ended.

Gordon Honey

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Murphy's Law & Fly Fishing
Game Fish
Bone Fish of the North
Stillwater Fly Tactics
Of Shoals & Drop Offs
Overview of the Season
Quality BC Stillwaters
Summer Doldrums
The Observant Flyfisher
Fly Fishing Gear & Boat
Lines & Extra Long Leaders

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